VANCOUVER Its a sobering dose of reality when a team plays the game according to the exact blueprint it's mapped out for itself to win a playoff series . . . and then loses.
Or is it?
The Canucks got the only goal, and the last laugh, in the closing 18 seconds and captured Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1-0, Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
Still, the Bruins checked off many of the things they hoped to achieve against the seemingly invincible Canucks.
I think we played a real good road game, to be honest with you. To be in the situation we were after two periods" -- a 0-0 tie -- "I didn't mind it, especially against this hockey club, said coach Claude Julien. I thought our penalty kill did a great job against their power-play. Timmy Thomas made the big saves when he had to. For two periods I was pretty pleased.
Obviously, in the third period they were the better team and they ended up scoring that goal. It got away from us, but we still got an opportunity here in the next game to hopefully get . . . the home-ice advantage.
Thomas had a magnificent game and gave Vancouver something to think about over the course of the next few days.
He finished with 33 saves and was at his athletic best in the first period when the Canucks sent a flurry of shots his way. He impressed again in the third period when he made 13 stops as Vancouver carried the play in Bostons zone.
And that -- outstanding goaltending from Thomas -- is part of the B's blueprint for the series.
Canucks players were getting behind the Bruins defensive layers, but Thomas stoned Jannik Hansen cold on a breakaway and turned away Maxim Lapierres quick redirect from the slot.
Thomas also had some good fortune, of course. Alex Edler rang the crossbar on a shot fired from the high slot area that rocketed past the goalie's shoulders on its way to smacking the pipe.
But all crossbars aside, Thomas had the Canucks shaking their heads and murmuring to themselves more than a little bit headed into the final minutes of the third period.
Thats exactly where the Bs need to have Vancouver's heads -- simultaneously amazed and frustrated -- if theyre going to bring the Cup back to Boston.
Thomas' performance in Game 1 is a good indication that it can be done. After all, if Thomas and the Bs can hold back the mighty Canucks offense for 59-plus minutes of an adrenaline-juiced playoff game once, they can certainly do it again.
The Bruins need their goaltender to again be the superhuman force he was on Wednesday night, and theyll need even more of the gutsy play around him in their own zone.
But was more than just Thomas on Wednesday night:
Containing the Sedin twins and holding the rugged Ryan Kesler off the board was the result of pure Bruins hockey for the better part of three periods.
The Bruins handed Vancouver six man advantages in Game 1, but somehow kept the Canucks' vaunted power play off the board. Dan Hamhuis and Sami Salo were able to fire away from the point positions, but there wasnt much there for the Sedin twins or Kesler once the game turned to special teams.
Most surprisingly (and something the Bruins may not have planned for), the Canucks were willing to mix it up and engage in plenty of scrums after whistles. They were happy to poke the bear in the cage, just as they did against the Blackhawks and Sharks in earlier rounds.
Hamhuis upended Milan Lucic with a hip check in front of the benches in the second period that sent Lucics legs square over his head. It was a signature hit during an intense playoff game, but it also resulted in the Vancouver defenseman limping off the ice in pain, never to return.
Lucic and Kevin Bieksa tangled in front of the net on several occasions, and Alexandre Burrows even somehow enraged the normally serene Patrice Bergeron by biting through his glove and bloodying the centers finger.
Though they didn't expect it, the Bruins took Vancouver's grit as a good sign of things, since they like that kind of scrappy game.
Theyre a good team and so are we, said Bruinsdefenseman Johnny Boychuk. It was more physical than we expected, butthats our style of hockey. Its fine.
The Bruins demonstrated they could hang with the Canucks, and they proved they're capable of beating them. Now they have to prove they can actually do it.
We played hard. All you guys in the media are doubting us and I think we showed today that we could play with the Canucks, said Milan Lucic. We worked hard. We played hard. But in order to get a win in this building were going to have to work a little harder.
Weve watched them play as many games as we could. Theyve always played a physical game. Just look at the last series against San Jose. They went right after Douglas Murray, and Joe Thornton and Ryan Clowe and all those guys. We knew it would be the same, and its going to be a hard-fought series.
Theres no doubt its going to be a hard-fought series after witnessing how things went down in Game 1.
The question now becomes: Can the Bruins be better?